Céline Bodin is an obsessive collector. Her project ‘The Hunt’ is a cabinet of curiosities bringing together different women, characters and stereotypes represented only by their hair. “As a pliable, removable, and growing element, hair is the human medium of transformation. It lies on the margins of the physical self.”
photography céline bodin
You named this series The Hunt… where did that name come from?
‘The Hunt’ is a photography project operating as a brief encyclopaedia of female hairstyles from various periods in time, within the frame of Western culture. The anonymous figures appear as ornate statues, characterised by their hair’s aesthetic association to various revisited stereotypes, forming an unusual yet all too recognisable collection of trophies that capture the wild nature of the hair, contained within a romanticised hairstyle. Hairstyling, like hunting, is related to control, to the taming of a natural element, the issue of compliance.
I like how you define the series as a ‘trophy’ collection.
Defining the female type as such trophy is also a reference to the historical representation of women: rich patrons exposing naked women on their walls since the renaissance. Women’s adornment has allowed for this classic type of nude representation to be accepted. The strong presence of the hair and a few accessories legitimised their position (Lucas Cranach’s paintings of the Venus and Three Graces are good examples.)
The title also emphasises the idea that I have literally chased women to create this project, in a hunt for the re-imagined characters based on my references. I have searched for the right physiques, the right hair, and achieved a series that relies a lot on a sense of decorative anonymity, like a wall of trophies would. This reflects on my own relationship to portraiture, and my obsessive collections of characters in images.
What made you begin this body of work?
I have a certain fascination for representations of the past. Before we framed portraits of loved-ones there were Victorian hair medallions. This fascinating practice reflects on the hair’s pictorial quality as a material but also its identitary linkage. As a pliable, removable, and growing element, hair is the human medium of transformation. It lies on the margins of the physical self.
Although nowadays our relationship to hair is much less contrived, looking at old paintings, vernacular photographs, and films, hair is actually a very strong pointer to gender. In my photography I only work around the principles of female representation, and in particular the construction of the feminine cult and the definition of Beauty. My general research is largely based on the writings of Simone de Beauvoir, John Berger, and Julia Kristeva. A few years ago, I read a book of letters exchanged between Julia Kristeva and Catherine Clement, titled the Feminine and the Sacred. The whole concept of the book is to explain the relationship between femininity and the sacred, hoping to define its roots. Hair was a very important element within this relationship. In many religions hair is considered sacred. It is either that is cannot ever be cut, or shall never be seen, as it is a pointer to female temptation and ultimately references sin. I always found this a fascinating idea. I got to meet Kim Rance last year and she really responded to the inspirations, so we started collaborating on the project straight away.
Vanity is a mirror of our loneliness and desire to be admired. It is all things of the artifice: superficial, yet a necessary evil
In your series the people all have their back to us… was this about showing the hair off, or something more?
Portraying from the back is certainly popular in photography, it conveys a sculptural aspect, and it allowed me to depict hair as an identity in itself. If it is not a face, when it comes to deconstructing gender and asserting the power of archetypes, it is just as good as. With these images I hoped to picture a bizarre collection of curiosities, rather than pretty portraits.
The anonymous nature of the series activates our mind’s associative aptitude, while strongly relying on one’s own fantasies. The hair can portray sensuality, innocence, order, freedom, frivolity, or social rank.
How did you decide on the specific hair styles?
Being a woman I could draw on my experience to reveal the archetypes that had paved my definition of femininity. Of course there are the Old Masters and historical paintings, like the young women in Vermeer’s paintings. But there are also the representations of strong female figures such as Queen Elizabeth I, or Marilyn, opposites yet both trendsetters. The pre-Raphaelites also defined their very own image of women, as a nymph and an embodiment of beauty. It was interesting to see how styles would cross-reference each other through time: The Venus, the ultimate woman, the pre-Raphaelite muse from Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographs, and the original 60’s hippie all share strong similarities when it comes to hair. So some styles can stand as referents for different times and values.
The references sometimes pointed to particular trends, specific to certain times. Others were more specific to particular characters or pointers to popular culture, as seen in movies or imagined from books. You might find resemblances to Josephine Baker, the Castiglione, Nabokov’s Lolita…
Do you have any hair heroes?
I couldn’t say that I do. Although, during my research I discovered the work of Monsieur Antoine, a Polish hair-stylist born in 1884 who truly embraced the female hair’s classic sculptural quality. There is no one quite like him.
Do you remember your first hair style, and who gave it to you?
My mother, I guess, was the first to do my hair, as tradition still often wants women to prepare their little girls, dress them, brush them, and tie their hair.
And when was the first time you made your own choice about your hair? Was it a rebellion?
I can’t say that my hair has ever been a very particular way of expressing myself, although having short or long always feels like a different statement, an expression of who I want to be as a woman.
When I was younger, I only truly saw my hair when I started wanting to look ‘pretty’ as a young teenager. I recall seeing certain hairstyles as paradigms. For a girl, hair can be just another beauty dictate. But hair is also linked to our emotions. We cut it when we enter new phases in our lives, or need to literally reject our own past personas.
In our current issue the theme is vanity … what does vanity mean to you?
To me the word vanity evokes the traditional still lives representing morbid elements, such as rotten fruit and a skull. It interestingly relates the art of beauty to a dangerous indulgence, but one that cannot be helped. Vanity is a mirror of our loneliness and desire to be admired. It is all things of the artifice: superficial, yet a necessary evil.